Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Different Kind of Recipe - Play Dough

As a stay-at-home Mom, I take my job pretty seriously.  I know I am lucky to have this time to spend with my kids and I really want to make the most of it.  Every day I strive to do four things with my kids:  cuddle, read books, take them outside to play, and do a mom-guided activity.   Cuddling and reading are easy because these little guys love nothing more than sitting in my lap while I read books (or the same book over and over, oy).  Going outside is pretty easy too.  We have a grassy fenced in backyard and we live in warm desert climes.  Even in the winter we have plenty of sunshine and pretty moderate temperatures. The mom-guided activities, though, are kind of a new thing.  The boys are nearing 18 months and so I've been starting to roll out the usual toddler suspects...bubbles, crayons, chalk, play dough.   Every week I try to add something (at least one thing) new to my arsenal.

We tried play dough for the first time this week and to be honest, it wasn't a huge hit.  BUT!  Making the dough only took twenty minutes, I had all the ingredients on hand (so it didn't cost anything), and it was a practically mess-free activity.  So they played with it for 10 minutes?  Oh well.  The dough is supposed to store well for months; we'll try it again soon.

I was really happy with the "recipe" though, so I thought I'd share it with you.  The dough came out buttery and soft, it wasn't smelly, and it didn't leave much of a nasty residue on our hands.  I haven't handled any real play dough in years but this was all I wanted it to be.  Not to mention that it was made out of edible items so no need to worry about the kids taste tasting it like they do everything these days still.

See what I mean?

Play Dough, recipe by MaryAnn F. Kohl, found at Tinkerlab
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups iodized salt (table salt)
1 1/2 tablespoons cream of tartar
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups flour
food coloring

In a medium saucepan mix together everything except for the food coloring.  The mixture will be lumpy and that is ok. 

Turn the burner on low and cook the dough mixture, stirring almost constantly.  As it cooks the dough will begin to form up and you will see it beginning to look solid and dry as you stir it away from the bottom and edges of the pan.

Keep stirring and cooking until the dough is no longer sticky.  Turn off the heat and turn the dough out onto your countertop.  If you are worried that food coloring might stain your counters, tape down a large piece of parchment paper first.  

Divide the dough up for as many colors as you want to make.  I made just three: blue, yellow and green.   Knead your (plain) dough while it is still warm until it is smooth.  Make sure to knead it well!  I didn't knead my first batch long enough so my blue has some white flecks in it.  (Not that the kids noticed, but still)  Once it is very smooth flatten the dough a bit and drip some of your chosen color onto the center.  Fold the dough over and knead the color in until it is even and smooth. 

According to Tinkerlab, the dough keeps well for months in an airtight container.  I used a simple plastic storage container. The recipe made plenty of dough for my two twinkies to be well stocked for a while.

I hope you and your little people enjoy this as much as I know mine surely will, someday... : P

Here's a couple more pictures of Aaron checking out this crazy new substance. Alex is notably absent from all pictures since he got down from the table and ran off.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Grilled Cheese + BLT = Love

I love a good sandwich.  I am very partial to a grilled cheese with tomato soup on a cold winter day and, to me, nothing says Spring better than a BLT.  Yum.  Well this sandwich is both grilled cheese and BLT.  Could a sandwich get any better?  I doubt it!

This sandwich is loaded with awesome ingredients and that is what makes it so special.  Using simple, high-quality ingredients turn a sandwich into a rather gourmet tasting meal.  Brioche, goat cheese, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, apple-wood smoked bacon....all of these are so good alone. And when piled together and lightly fried? Genius, Mr. Flay.

Grilled Cheese BLT, adapted from Bobby Flay's Bar Americain Cookbook
--for 2 sandwiches
4 slices of applewood smoked bacon
unsalted butter
4 slices Brioche (or other good sandwich bread)
4 slices good quality cheddar cheese (no Singles please!)
4 oz goat cheese
2 green or heirloom tomato slices
salt and pepper

Put the bacon in a cold cast iron or other heavy frying pan and turn the heat on to medium.  Cook until the bacon is crispy and then remove it to a plate lined with paper towels.  (Bacon generally takes about 4 minutes per side).  Carefully wipe out the pan and then put it back on medium heat.

Use a cutting board to start assembling the sandwiches while the bacon is cooking.  Butter one side of each slice of bread and put them each butter side down on the board.  On two of the slices of bread put the cheddar cheese, then the goat cheese, tomato (salt and pepper the tomato!) and then the bacon.  Put the other two slices of bread on top, butter-side up.  Once the sandwiches are assembled move them to the fry pan and fry them on each side for about 3 minutes.

When the sandwiches are looking golden brown and delicious...remove them from the pan and gently open them up to add a bit of arugula.  Enjoy!

Oh and if you are looking for an awesome brioche recipe, look no further.  Martha's recipe is delicious!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Different Kind of Recipe - Laundry Detergent

So you know Mr Pears and I (especially Mr Pears) like to make everything we can from scratch.  From bread to brownies to mayonnaise and everything in between.  So when I mentioned making laundry detergent, he was totally on board.  Especially since we do about a load of laundry EVERY DAY.  ugh.

It was super super easy, it only took 20 minutes!  And it is super cheap.  According to the calculations done by the blogger whose recipe I used, it works out to about $0.01 a load.  All I know is I spent $11 on "ingredients" and still have a ton of stuff left over to make more.  The batch I made came out to about 2 gallons.  Using 1/2 a cup that is 64 loads of laundry.  Enough to (hopefully) last us two months.  20 minutes of work for 2 months of laundry soap?  for $0.71?  Yes!  (For more details on the math click here.)

P.S.  This works in HE machines too!

Laundry Detergent - recipe by Crystal Miller
1/3 bar of Fels Naptha .
1/2 cup Washing Soda  (looks like baking soda but a much much bigger box!)
1/2 cup Borax
1 utitlity bucket for mixing and cooling

All of those ingredients can be found in the laundry aisle of your grocery store.  Seriously.  I honestly didn't expect to find everything but there they were!  And all for $11 total.

The first thing I did was grate the soap on a box grater.  Then I put the soap flakes into a large pot with 6 cups of water.

I heated it over medium until the soap flakes were melted then I stirred in the borax and washing soda.

Once everything was dissolved and combined I poured the mixture into my bucket and then added an additional 4 cups of hot (from the tap) water and stirred it together.

Lastly I poured in another gallon plus 6 cups of room temperature tap water and gave it one last stir.  Ta Da! Done. Well, almost.  It does need to sit overnight to gel together and cool down.  I just moved my bucket into the laundry room.  The next day I used a funnel to pour the detergent into some empty laundry detergent bottles I had saved for this purpose.  The end product isn't a true gel, by the way, so don't be concerned if it looks weird to you.  Also, I chose not to use any scent since we typically are "free and clear" type people but you can definitely stir in about an ounce of essential oil to make your soap smell pretty.  The plain soap smells quite pretty enough for me.

And for the results?  My first load came through great! (Though I didn't have any real stains on anything so I'm not sure how it will do on those)  I am planning to make my own Oxy-Clean type stuff soon and Mr. Pears wants to make bar soap now.  I'll let you know how we do. :)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Monday

Hi out there!  Sorry no great recipe for you today.  We've been cooking old favorites around here the short rib risotto (thanks Melissa for inspiring us to make that one again this weekend, yum).

I've also been adapting some old recipes to fit what's in my pantry/refrigerator.  Since we can't seem to cut down our grocery bill, the least I can do is try and use up what we have instead of wasting things.  This weekend I turned some brown bananas and a bunch of carrots into bread by substituting the carrots for the zucchini in this banana bread recipe.  It turned out great!  And I was happy to find another way for my babies to get in some much needed veggies.   I used the rest of my bananas ( I had a ton of those things!) in Oatmeal Pancakes on Sunday.  I just mashed them up with a potato masher and mixed them into the batter.  They were so good!

I've been getting creative outside of the kitchen too, though, and I think I'm going to be blogging about some other types of "recipes" I've been trying out.  Because cooking isn't all we do around here!  Stay tuned for adventures in making laundry detergent (not extremely exciting stuff but super easy and very cost efficient), making play dough for the kids, and maybe even how to crochet a bunny or two.  Oh and more recipes.  Hopefully with veggies in them cause my carnivorous toddlers seem to be boycotting those lately, sigh.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Dessert decorating seems to be all the rage right now.  Beautiful fondant covered cakes for birthday parties and baby showers, perfectly iced cupcakes, frosted cookies....

I am still very much more concerned with how a baked item tastes, rather than how it looks but now that I am beginning to get the taste part down, I have been dipping my toe in the icing water of the decorating pool.

I decided to try a new decorating style? tool? medium? out for Valentine's Day.  Mr Pears had been wanting me to make some sugar cookies (though why he didn't think of this request during the Christmas holidays I have no idea).  Anyway, I figured heart shaped sugar cookies with pretty Royal Icing would be a nice way to show my love this week.

I lucked onto an amazing blog with an awesome royal icing tutorial (and a pretty great sugar cookie recipe!) and went to town.

First I read this.

Then I mixed up half a batch of the sugar cookies using the recipe found on the blog.   I love how the added lemon and almond extracts give these cookies such a nice subtle flavor.  Delicious.  Because I generally do this kind of stuff during nap time I put the dough in the refrigerate to chill until the next day.

The next day (nap-time again!) I rolled out half the dough out (and froze the rest) and used my heart shape cookie cutter to bake sweet little heart-shaped cookies.

Later that evening after the kids were asleep I made my royal icing.  Only after it was almost complete did I open my cabinet to discover I had used all my red food coloring on a red velvet cake.  Oops.  So I made blue hearts.... I am the only female in this house so I tried to convince myself it was no big deal.  But I was pretty ticked.

My first batch came out ok.  Lots of room for improvement, though.  I didn't take any pictures of  my blue hearts because I knew I was going to make some pink ones with the second half of the hearts. ugh.

My second batch, pink (even though they look pretty red in these pictures)!  These came out somewhat better but I am definitely still learning.  I loved using the condiment bottles to squeeze out the icing onto the cookie.  It was easy and mess free and the bottles rinsed out quickly in hot water. You can buy them in the craft/kitchen supply store.

Royal icing is so nice because it is smooth and pretty and it dries hard so you can let the iced cookies dry overnight and then put them right into the cookie jar without fear of messing up all your hard work.

Click on this link for all the details and try your hand at making some pretty cookies.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Guess what? I actually made that wreath...that is MY front door!  I'm just starting to get crafty over here but it was sooo easy and I think it came out great.  And it matches my living room curtains so I hung it on the inside of my door so I could gaze adoringly at my craftiness all day. ;)

If you want to try it out, follow this link.

I hope you have a wonderful V-day with the ones you love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lemon-Blueberry Bread

I think I've expressed my love of pinterest before.  Here's an amazing recipe I found for Lemon-Blueberry Yogurt Loaf.  Click over for the complete instructions!

A little bit of stirring, a floured loaf pan.....

And you have a beautiful and deliciously sweet bread (or cake?) that is chock full of blueberries.

Lemon zest gives it a depth of flavor and yogurt makes it so moist.  I made mine without the recommended glaze and syrup since I wanted to feel better about feeding it to the kiddos, and it was still amazingly good.  Feel free to add them if you want but this bread is definitely great on its own if you want to shave off a few calories.

Enjoy! Happy Monday!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dutch Baby with Caramelized Bananas

Have you ever heard of a Dutch Baby?  The first time I'd ever seen this odd sounding name on a menu was at The Original Pancake House here in Vegas.  And I never ordered it.  But it always sounded good so when I stumbled upon a recipe for one in Food and Wine magazine this month I ripped it out to try.

A Dutch Baby is like a pancake, except it is large enough to feed 2-4 people and baked in a skillet in the oven (Like Yorkshire  pudding if you've ever heard of that).  It is a little more egg-y in my opinion (like a crepe) and it is super simple to make.  It goes great with any kind of fruit topping but you could just eat it with syrup too.  I am a huge fan now because it means that instead of flipping pancakes and either warming them in the oven or feeding everyone else first, I can just pop this in the oven, make a quick topping while it bakes....and then chow down with my family.  A fun, interesting, and delicious family breakfast done in 30 minutes start to finish.

Dutch Baby with Caramelized Bananas, adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, February 2012
3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
for banana topping:
2 bananas, sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar

To begin, put a large oven-proof skillet into the oven and then turn it on to preheat to 475 F.

Next put the eggs, flour, milk and vanilla into your blender and blitz for about 30 seconds, until it is frothy.

When the oven is preheated (or almost) put the butter into the pan and put the pan back in the oven for about 2 to 3 minutes.  It should be melted and golden brown.  Take the pan out of the oven and pour in the contents of your blender.

Now return the pan to the oven and let it bake for 17-19 minutes.  When it is done it will be golden brown and puffed up the sides of the pan.

For the bananas: when the dutch baby has a minute or two left, melt the butter in another saute pan over medium heat.  Sprinkle over the sugar and give it just a little stir to dissolve it into the butter.  Once melted together put in the sliced bananas.  Let them sit in the butter and sugar for about a minute then toss them to coat and turn off the heat.

Now you can serve!  Turn the dutch baby out onto a cutting board.  (It will just slide right out) Slice it for each plate and then top with the bananas.  Feel free to add some homemade whipped cream and/or powdered sugar, or a little bit of maple syrup.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Asian Fish Marinade

Last weekend Alex created the best tasting fish marinade I think I've ever had.  I'm totally not exaggerating.  It was really just a spur of the moment thing and since we were just making a quick fish meal, I didn't even take a picture! I wasn't expecting to blog about this simple dinner but it turned out to be so fantastic I just have to share it.

This marinade is soy sauce based and would work great on most white fishes.  We were having rockfish the other night because it happened to be on sale at Whole Foods.  As I've mentioned before, we love buying our meat and fish at Whole Foods- but you can't always spring for the $25 per/lb sea bass, you know?  I think tilapia or mahi mahi (two other inexpensive fishes) would also work out great as would cod, or that amazing sea bass.

The fish cooked up super quick in a hot pan with a little of the marinade and we just removed the fish and sauteed up a little bok choy in that same pan.  Bok choy cooks in just minutes so it was ready to go way before the fish got cold.   A 20 minute dinner, if that.  But SO delicious.  And healthy even!

Asian Fish Marinade- by Mr. Pears
(for approx 1 lb of fish)
4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Mix the (3!) ingredients together in a small glass bowl or in a small saucepan.  You can either microwave the bowl for about a minute, or bring it to a boil in the pan.  Allow it to cool before pouring it into a zip-lock type bag with your fish.  Let it marinate in the refrigerator for about an hour before cooking.

Cook fish in a hot pan with a little of the marinade.  (Cook time will vary- but for a one inch thick piece, cook for about 4 to 5 minutes on one side then 2 to 3 minutes longer after you flip.)

And sorry again about the lack of picture.  I just wasn't expecting to blog about my quickie rockfish/bok choy dinner! Maybe I should have taken a picture of my practically licked clean plate.  :P